An Oxford College has banned the Christian Union from its freshers’ fair on the grounds that it would be “alienating” for students of other religions, and constitute a “micro-aggression”.
The organiser of Balliol’s fair argued Christianity’s historic use as “an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism” meant that students might feel “unwelcome” in their new college if the Christian Union had a stall.
Freddy Potts, vice-president of Balliol’s Junior Common Room (JCR) committee, said that if a representative from the Christian Union (CU) attended the fair, it could cause "potential harm" to freshers.
Mr Potts, writing on behalf of the JCR's welfare committee, told the CU representative at Balliol, that their "sole concern is that the presence of the CU alone may alienate incoming students”.
In email correspondence, seen by The Daily Telegraph, he went on: “This sort of alienation or micro-aggression is regularly dismissed as not important enough to report, especially when there is little to no indication that other students or committee members may empathise, and inevitably leads to further harm of the already most vulnerable and marginalised groups.
“Historically, Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism."
He said that barring the Christian Union from the fair “may be a way of helping to avoid making any students feel initially unwelcome within Balliol”.
Initially he said the JCR committee wanted the fair to be a “secular space”, explaining that since he "couldn't guarantee every major belief system" would have stalls at the the fair, students from other religions may "suffer" if their faith is not represented.
“Many students, especially students of colour and of other faiths, may already feel alienated and vulnerable in Oxford, a university with a reputation for racism and lack of diversity, and a city with barely any appropriate places of worship for non-Christians," he said.
“Hopefully, as people of faith, you may be able to empathise with this, and we ask you to consider from a place of compassion the potential harm to those freshers who are already severely and harmfully disadvantaged.”
However, Mr Potts - who was part of Balliol’s winning University Challenge team - later conceded that he would allow a “multi-faith” stall at the fair, with information about various university religious societies. Student representatives of the CU were barred from attending in person and distributing leaflets.
The move sparked a backlash among students, with others within the College criticising it as a “violation of free speech”.
The JCR passed a motion on Sunday evening condemning the JCR committees for “barring the participation of specific faith-based organizations”.
The motion said the ban was a "violation of free speech, a violation of religious freedom, and sets dangerous precedents regarding the relationship between specific faiths and religious freedom".
Dr Joanna Williams, a university lecturer and author of Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity, said the decision to ban the Christian Union was “completely bizarre”.
“It is intolerance being exercised in the name of inclusion,” she said. “They are saying: Your religious society is not welcome here’. Essentially they are saying that the Christian Union is not allowed to recruit new members.”